Merrimack, New Hampshire
JULES ~AGE TWELVE
Ileaned into Frank for a final kiss good bye. He was twelve like me and had beenmy first kiss ever.Sigh. I was now aperson who kisses. A kisser. I kiss boys. Well, I kissed a boy. I knew how tomake out. All thanks to you, summer camp! Rock on.
CampWimberley sat in the White Mountains and had been a constant summer staple forme and my two best friends. Angie, Emmy, and I booked early for two weeks atthe end of June every year since we were eight. We would skip out of the lastday of class and know in less than two weeks we would be in one of our favoriteplaces. We loved the crystal blue pond with the mountains surrounding it. Momalways commented on how great I was at taking pictures of them but all anyonehad to do was point and click. Every view was a post card waiting to happen.
Thelogged cabins were hot but so comfortable. Emmy, Angie, and I took up three ofthe cabin’s four bunks and every year we made a fourth best friend forever inthe last bunk. Throughout the school year, we would keep in touch with thatgirl until the next summer when we would get a new bunkmate. We told her how luckyshe was because we knew the ins and outs of Camp Wimberley. We knew the ropes.We were sleek and total mission impossible at night to retrieve food from thecafeteria or enjoy a late night walk around the lake. We got away with a wholeheap of stuff over the years.
Swimming,boating, and field games took up most of our daylight camp hours. The mess hallwas a huge building and it allowed us three or sometimes four a place to playtricks on the camp counselors. One little frog dropped in the pudding made fora lot of ruckus but no one could pinpoint us as we were already walking throughthe sea of campers back to our reserved table. I think they eventually caughton after two years but they loved the three of us nonetheless. We wereentertaining.
Now that we were in the older group, weenjoyed more freedom- nightly dances, later curfews, and interactions with boysfrom the camp down the road. Frank and I kissed the first night we showed upfor registration and the opening dance. I liked him right away. He was funnyand made me feel special. We swapped love notes and slow danced to American Pie at every dance, where hewould sing all the words to me. It became oursong. Angie and Emmy also met boys but Frank and our love connection cementedmy growing up. Being twelve was so rad. Boys and Junior High were the futurelife of Jules Delaney.
Iheard someone clear their throat behind me and I turned my head to see mymother with her hands on her hips.
“JulesDelaney!” She admonished me. I immediately stepped back from Frank and flushed.
“Mom!You are early! Pick up isn’t for another two hours,” I stated firmly.
“Yes,well, all of us wanted to get you girls home now. Something extremely tragichappened yesterday and we got permission to pick you girls up early.” She washer normal, cold self. No hug, no smile. Pickup the kid from camp, check.
Ilooked around to see Angie with a miserable face and speaking to her parents,who were comforting her with hugs and hushed tone. Emmy was listening to herparents— stoic and emotionless—with no reaction at all. She nodded every oncein a while but seemed resolute. Obviously she didn’t mind our early departure.I turned back to Frank and smiled at him. I pulled out an envelope withpre-stamped postcards, addressed to me. He grinned down at them.
“Iwill send one today. I will put my phone number on it for you to call me,okay?” Frank seized my hand and kissed it. I blushed again.
“Jules!”My mother snapped. I rolled my eyes as I twisted back to face Frank. Catchinghis wondrous gaze, I mouthed ‘I love you’. He brightened up and mouthed it backto me. Yes! We finally admitted it.Summer camp was magnificent through and through. I could go home knowing that Iwas a new girl, almost a woman. A boy had kissed me and he told me he loved me.There was no better feeling.
Withone final look at Frank, I trailed my mother with my trunk in tow. I waved overto Angie and then to Emmy. They made the phone signal with their hands and Inodded quickly with wide eyes. Something was most definitely happening. Were weall in trouble for something we had done before we left for camp? I tried toremember but all I could think of was Frank. I sighed as I looked back to him, buthe had already moved from our spot. I looked at my best friends again. Both girlshad stunned and freaked out expressions on their faces as they handed their owntrunks over to their fathers.
I had what my mother referred to as an absentfather. He was alive and well, but to me, it wouldn’t affect my daily life ifhe wasn’t. He left Mom when I was five. He got himself a brand new family, whoI liked enough to visit on occasion. Okay, that isn’t true, I didn’t like hiswife. I called her my step-monster.
The day my dad left my mother for that woman,two things changed. I knew what it actually felt like to hate someone and the joyfullight in my mother’s eyes completely flickered out the day my dad left for good.
My brother, Kent, and I are our father’safterthoughts. To be fair, he is myafterthought, too. Rarely do I have memories of our family all together and theyfade just as quickly as I try to grasp more detail from my brain. I don’tremember very much of my life back then. Everything I know is from what momtells me. I believe what she says because, well, he isn’t around to give me hisside of the story. It is times like these that I wish a fatherly figure couldmake an appearance and show everyone that I am loved by two parents.
AsI hoisted the trunk into the back seat, I dismissed the thought. I was a twelveyear old who was in love for the first time. Nothing else matters. I just wish I didn’t appear different in anyrespect from my friends. Explaining a divorce to my friends is just asuncomfortable for me as it is for them. Daddy just didn’t love us anymore.
Ithrew my seat belt on and played with my silver bangles on my wrists. Momstarted up the old Buick and I watched the luscious green grass and trees as wemade our way out of the most magical place. My summer camp experience wasunforgettable and I sighed heavily as I started to long for it already. I hadto switch gears and get back into home mode which was heavily clouded by mymother’s mood. Mom was upset and more than a usual upset. It wasn’t like she was a cold person but hugs andkisses just weren’t her way of showing affection. Talking was her thing.
“Communicationis key,” she announced at the beginning of every argument. I decided to takeher stance and use it against her. I would not let her mood ruin mine.
“Sowhat is wrong with you Mom? I like Frank. He is very sweet. We kissed. So what?”I asked incredulously.
“Frank?Was that the boy you were with? Yes, well, I suppose it is time for a trip toPlanned Parenthood. I suppose you are growing up, huh? I was around your agefor my first kiss, but my mother would have cut off my lips with an exactoknife if she saw me. See, I can behip.” Her humorous laugh faded off into silence.” She shook her head. I balkedat that image. Geesh, it was only a kiss.
“As much as I would like to be solely concernedabout you kissing a boy, that is not what is upsetting me and the communityback home,” she croaked out, as she started to straighten her body in aprotective stance. She meant business. I, myself, sat up a little taller in theseat.
“Whatis going on, Mom?” I asked, alarmed. “Are you mad at me? Did I do somethingwrong at home before I left for camp?”
Sheshook her head again. She was silent, probably trying to figure out how to fixthe problem inside her own mind. She could do it, too. My mother, the world class Ms. Fix-it. The pipes are leaking? Callthe plumber. Failing math? Hire a tutor. Kissed a boy? Go on the pill.
My mom was good to us despite thecircumstances. With a full time job and a single mom, she was stretched thin.Kent and I got away with a lot. Her expression morphed back into a nervousconsideration as she handed me the MerrimackDaily newspaper and asked me to read it. A photo of Grace Miller was on thefront page. She was a year ahead of us in school. She was already in JuniorHigh, so we would be at her school next year. Pretty blond. Popular socially.Trendy clothing. Sometimes snobby to people outside her circle of friends. Onthe rare occasion, she said “hi” to Angie because they knew each other fromgymnastics camp. Emmy and I would give Angie crap for that. We teased mostly,saying she would ditch us for the popular crowd when we started school.
As I read the story below her photo, I saw thewords rape, strangled, and murder. How was Grace’s picture associated withmurder? I tried to tamp down the car sick feeling when I read words in the carbut it was too late. I was focusing too hard on each word and my head startedto throb. My stomach became a pit of snakes that were eating their wayunderneath each rib.
“Mom,reading is making me car sick and I don’t understand what I am reading here.Just tell me what you want me to know. Gracey Miller is dead?” I asked as thesluggish, nauseated words stumbling their way out of my mouth.
“Shewas strangled to death,” she emphasized, and then paused so she knew that Iunderstood the enormity of what she was telling me. “She was riding her bikehome from the camp at Merrimack Elementary.”
She looked at me pointedly like I should havealready been aware of whatever she was telling me. My friends and I, andespecially Grace, was too old for that camp at the school. It only went up tofifth grade so it didn’t make any sense that Grace would have attended. Thewords from the newspaper replayed over and over in my head as I felt theheadache start to subside.
“Whoa,that is… ” I didn’t know what to say. I suppose I had more questions than knowingwhat to say. A murder. That didn’thappen in our daily life. Murder was made for television and newspapers thathighlighted those high crime areas in the bigger states. New Hampshire wassafe. I felt safe but maybe now, I wasn’t? Was I?
“Mom, what is rape?” I felt my eyebrows werepinched together with curiosity and it seemed to make my head feel better.
Mymom’s lips went into a thin line and she paled. I could tell she was trying toreign in her feelings. Maybe she didn’t mean to show me that portion of thenewspaper story? It appeared that before she was strangled, she was raped.Whatever that meant. Mom took a deep breath like she always did when she aboutto say something that she didn’t want to, like the day she told us our fatherwas never coming home.
“Rapeis something that is very cruel. It is an illegal crime when someone makessomeone else do things they don’t want to do,” she explained. “Sexually,” she added.
“Oh,”I peeped. I couldn’t manage to say anything else. Rape wasn’t something I knewabout but the word itself sounded awful. I had seen someone being strangled ontelevision and it was a cruel way of killing someone. I couldn’t imagine tryingto suck in air. The victims always fought against the hands. They always shooktheir heads and bodies to get out of their grasp. The fear hit me then.
“Mom,did they get him? You know, the man who strangled Grace?” I asked, as I felt mystomach inch its way into my esophagus.
Momshook her head. I watched her shake out her hands and firmly put them back onthe steering wheel. I stared at absolutely nothing for a long beat before I satback in my seat. I stayed silent while she sniffled and looked devastated. She wasdriving but her vision was all over the place, like she was looking forsomething. I wanted to ask her more but this woman was someone I hadn’t seenbefore.
Herface proclaimed that she was furious. Her jaw set implied that she didn’t wantto start crying. Her automatic hand to rub her breastbone admitted that she wasscared. I watched her and wondered what else she knew about Grace Miller’smurder that I didn’t. What was she not telling me? Did Emmy and Angie know morethan I did? I would call them as soon as I could.
Sheheld the front door open for me at our white ranch style house in Merrimack.The familiar country smells were welcoming. I was home. Our home was set up ina small but family focused town. Everyone knew everyone. I had great memories ofcamp but the summer still had a great deal of time left. I couldn’t wait to geton my bike and spend every day scrounging up coins for the penny candy down atthe MM Country Store. Emmy, Angie and I would ride the long country roads formiles and enjoy the butterflies and small lakes. We were always on a missionfor an adventure.
Mybrother, Kent, was in the front room reading a magazine. He was seventeen and Iwas surprised to see him home. He was never ever home. Either he was playingbaseball and hanging out with the Jasons.Yes, all three of his good friends were named Jason. If he wasn’t with them, hewas trying to stick his tongue down his girlfriend’s throat.
Krysta,a petite blond that went a little heavy on the makeup, was nice to me. They hadbeen dating for a couple years and my mom really liked her. She showed me howto apply my own make up one day and I sort of looked up to her, since I didn’thave a sister. I told Kent that if he breaks up with her I would never talk tohim again.
“Hey,twerp.” He stood up and whoa, he was taller. He threw the magazine on the tableand enveloped me into a hug, while mom observed us with a faint smile.
“Heybig brother. Whatcha doing home?” I asked, as I wrapped my arms around hislanky frame. My brother was super nice, but he was kind of a geek. He worethick lens square glasses, but listened to heavy metal. He head banged, forGod’s sakes, to The Cult, Guns and Roses, and Metallica. He was a walkingcontradiction.
“Ijust wanted to see my Julia Child before I headed out,” he smiled at me. Thatnickname was ridiculous. I tried to speak like her once. I sounded more like adrunk cat, not that I had ever heard one. But that is what Kent and the Jasons said, and I went with it,laughing right along.
“Whereare you going? Can I come?” Excitement streamed through my veins at the idea ofchilling with my big bro. Sometimes,he would let me tag along and I would be the special little sister for the day.It made me feel somewhat superior to my friends.
“Noway! Jules you are staying home until I tell you that you can leave!” Mom bellowedwith the sternest voice in history. Kent and I were taken aback.
“Oh…kay,” I drew out. This stern attitude was a little over the top, even for Mom.I mean I would just be going to hang out with Kent. He would watch over me thewhole time. What was the big deal?
Kentgave my mother a look that my Dad would have given her, if he was still around.Kent must have felt uneasy with her temper, as well. For the second time that day,I thought about my Dad.Weird. Heleft when I was five and we hardly saw him. He lived about two hours away inMassachusetts, but since he had a new family, the drive was too long forfrequent visits, he had argued once. Birthday cards and Christmas gifts wereKent and my only expectations out of him.
I don’t know why he didn’t want to see us butI think it had something to do with seeing my mother at drop off. She tried sohard to say something nice to him. He would nod at her, without even looking ather, and get us in the car as quickly as possible. Kent and I slowly acceptedthat we would never be fans of our father. Our loyalty remained with ourMother.
“Itis so great to be home,” I sassed at them, with a slight pucker, and made myway back to my room. My room was big and it was set in the far back corner ofone side of the ranch home. I thought about the car ride and my mother’soutburst. What did she mean I couldn’t leave the house? I was considering sneakingaway for the day. I mentally thought of everything I needed to pack in mybackpack. Water, change for candy, a swimsuit, towel, and… as I started formy empty backpack, the lawn mower’s loud reverberation started up outside mywindow and I drew back the blinds to find my brother. Kent was head banging tohis Walkman, pushing the old lawnmower over freshly mowed grass. I rolled myeyes at my mother’s deceptiveness. Obviously, Mom sent him out because she knewI would crawl out my window to go to Emmy’s house. She was so annoying. Andright.